The Daily Northwestern

Volleyball: Wildcats host Big Ten foes in crucial weekend matchups

Gabrielle Hazen rises for a block attempt.

Gabrielle Hazen rises for a block attempt.

Daily file photo by Jonathan Dai

Daily file photo by Jonathan Dai

Gabrielle Hazen rises for a block attempt.

Cassidy Jackson, Reporter

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Back-to-back tough contests.

As Northwestern (11-5, 1-3 Big Ten) looks to Indiana and Purdue this weekend, the Wildcats are seeking to rebound with crucial home victories after losing four of their last five matches.

In its second home match of the season, NU will face the Hoosiers (11-5, 0-4) on Friday, while Sunday promises what coach Shane Davis called an “anticipated” rematch between the Cats and No. 18 Purdue (13-2, 3-1) in Evanston.

Since coming off a successful nonconference season, NU has struggled against conference opponents, dropping three of its four Big Ten matches. But this weekend, the Cats have the potential to even their Big Ten record.

“(We had a) great, strong nonconference, and now we’re in … the Big Ten,” Davis said. “We toughed a couple of matches with Illinois and Purdue, but it was nice to see us bounce back against Rutgers. (I’m) excited about this weekend with Indiana and Purdue.”

The Cats will open the weekend against Indiana –– a team with a strikingly similar record this season –– for the first time.

But Purdue is a familiar opponent for the Cats, as they took on the Boilermakers just two weeks ago. NU failed to take a set in that matchup, but each individual set was close, with scores of 25-18, 25-20 and 25-18.

“After the Purdue match, the first time we played them, I told the team afterwards, ‘I want that team again. I want to play that team again,’” Davis said.

To come out with a win, the team’s key contributors will have to be on top of their games. Senior outside hitter Symone Abbott, who leads the Big Ten with 4.35 kills per set, has been one of the team’s go-to players on offense this season. Senior setter Taylor Tashima, who sits at No. 6 in assists in the Big Ten with an average of 11.4 per set, could snag the team some points as well.

Young guns are also stepping up, as freshman middle hitter Alana Walker averages 2.15 kills per set and freshman outside hitter Nia Robinson averages 3.43. But along with individual skill, Walker said NU needs to use its collective ability against Indiana and Purdue.

“Our strength is definitely our speed,” Walker said. “We run a very fast offense, and we have a lot of options. We’re able to scheme on them and confuse their defense and their blockers. I think that will definitely work in our favor in those games.”

In upcoming matches, the Cats will need to overcome Indiana’s stifling defense, which sits at No. 6 in the Big Ten with 13.8 digs per set. NU will also have to contain Purdue’s high-octane offense, which is second in the conference with a hitting percentage of .351.

Senior middle blocker Gabrielle Hazen said although NU had hard losses in the past, seeing progress over the course of the season is key.

“For (the) Big Ten, it’s a tough conference, but we’ve been hanging with teams,” Hazen said. “I’m happy because we’re making improvements every week, every day.”

Correction: A previous version of this story misstated Purdue’s ranking. The Boilermakers are ranked No. 18. The Daily regrets the error.